Gina Gwozdz realized just how valuable blogging can be when, as a sole practitioner vying for clients with three other CPA firms in the small town of Bullard, Texas, she started looking to expand her reach beyond writing articles and columns in her local newspaper.Research led her to find a blogging community within the accounting and tax profession, and there she discovered that she could jumpstart her new practice by taking the plunge. She decided to go online and start Gina's Tax Articles at http://glgcpa.blogspot.com.

"I just wanted to get my name known," said Gwozdz, who started her CPA practice in January. "Not only has it been a client source, but to be honest, it forces me to read other people's blogs. They're keeping me up on my industry."

Since her launch, Gwozdz said that one third of her clients - many of whom are young entrepreneurs - have found her online.

"I don't do anything special," she said. "It's just because today's younger generation is on the computer so much. People aren't close anymore, they aren't asking their friends. They're on the computer."

Web logs, or blogs, are online journals that can be created and maintained at a writer's discretion. They can cover any topic and be started for free through Web sites such as blogger.com, wordpress.com or typepad.com.

THE WEB MOVES ON

"The brochure Web site is totally useless and dead," said Michelle Golden, president of St. Louis, Mo.-based Golden Marketing Inc. "The only way that the Web is effective for firms anymore is if they're using it to their advantage by providing useful, meaningful content. This is most easily accomplished with blogs."

Golden, whose blog, online at www.goldenpractices.com, lists links to blogs written by CPAs, said that the accounting profession has been slow to adopt blogging as a communication and marketing tool, as compared to those in the legal profession.

"Lawyers are all over blogs; there are thousands of law blogs and there are two dozen accounting blogs," Golden said. "The most effective blogs are industry niche-based, but a big problem [that accounting] firms have is declaring, 'I'm a specialist in X,' because they are overly worried about the implication that they don't specialize in Y and Z. If they're a small firm, they're worried that they'll disqualify themselves, but if they're a big firm, it's politics. When it comes to blogging, they mistakenly think it's an all-or-nothing deal. Even if somebody is innovative enough to move forward and blog for industry niche X, other partners oppose it, saying, 'I don't want to do a blog, but I'm an expert in Y, and that's going to make me look bad.' This is an unwise sacrifice of a great opportunity for the sake of ego."

WHY BLOG?

The practice growth team at Pannell Kerr Forster in Houston, led by Karen Love, decided upon blogging for reasons similar to Gwozdz's - they wanted to stand out among their competitors in the market.

"We had heard about blogs, but we were unclear as to what the differentiating factor was between that and a regular Web site," Love said, adding that the turning point for the firm was when she sat through a Webinar describing its capabilities. "We decided that we needed to look at it because we're very technology-oriented. We needed to find a technology tool that could help us be up to date."

Love's team researched blogs for about 10 months before they launched From Greg's Head (at http://fromgregshead.com), a blog written by Greg Price, the director of the firm's consulting solutions practice. Though the posts are funneled through Price, who is already well-known in the community for his technology and marketing expertise, the strategy and content behind each post are developed through the team prior to going live.

"I think the majority of the research didn't have so much to do with risk management issues; it had to do with best practices and reputation effect," said Raissa Evans, PKF Texas' practice growth marketing manager. "The biggest thing is mortality rates. Anybody and their grandmother can launch a blog at this point. A lot of them are spam and trickle off after a year or two. We didn't want that to happen."

The outcome of the launch has brought positive attention to the firm, including numerous awards and a more sophisticated marketing strategy that connects to other outreach vehicles such as radio shows and advertising. It also has netted the practice more clients.

"Human capital is our No. 1 issue in the accounting industry," Love said. "So what we did is have business cards with the image of the blog and the firm's information printed up so that when we do our college campus recruiting, we promote that. What that does is it gives the image internally and externally that we are with it, that we get the next-generation thinking."

BLOGROLLING

Other CPAs say that writing blogs keeps them in tune with their peers by writing about their profession and reading what others in the industry are learning and experiencing as well.

"I do a monthly newsletter, and I wanted some way to really do two things," said Reed Tinsley, CPA, CVA, CFP and a Houston-based consultant for the health care industry. "To communicate with my target audience on a daily basis, plus do something that will keep me sharp as an individual."

Tinsley, who writes a blog at http://rtacpa.blogs.com, said that in the last 12 to 25 months, he has gained roughly 50 clients from his Web site and blog, which he tries to update every day.

"If you read my blog, I'm not pontificating like a lot of blogs do," Tinsley said. "The intent of my blog [is] a receptacle of quick ideas or updates, changes in regulatory issues people need to know about. I've told my colleagues lately, I'm really surprised about how much business and inquiries I get through the Web site and I think part of that is the blog itself."

Golden pointed to Tinsley's blog as successful one because it thoroughly addresses an "industry" niche - health care - and, more specifically, physicians. That's important if you want to attract and retain a particular audience, Golden said.

"The first inclination of firms thinking of blogging is to go down the road of services, but that's a very firm-centric way of thinking about it, because your buyers don't buy just a service, they buy your expertise in their industry," she said. "If [CPAs] serve five industries, then they should think about doing blogs for the five industries, not for audit, tax, accounting. That's where blogs get way too broad, boring and amorphous. When they get really specific and they limit themselves to, say, issues of auto dealers, that's where it gets good."

GET BLOGGING!

"If you have an area of expertise that you want to show the world, this is a good way to do it," wrote Jack Ciesielski, CPA, CFA and owner of R.G. Associates, an investment research and portfolio management firm based in Baltimore, via e-mail. "Dive in, write frequently. Don't take too long for posts, try for something every day. Otherwise, you won't develop a following and you will lose interest."

Ciesielski has written a blog since 2005, www.accountingobserver.com/blog, which was initially geared towards readers of his firm's research service, The Analyst's Accounting Observer.

"The blog material is basically what I find interesting," he wrote. "So the things that I read - the Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Accounting Standards Board non-reliance 8-Ks, articles in various publications, all become fair game. Plus the discipline of writing the blog forces me to keep current on my reading."

Eva Lang, CPA/ABV, started BV Girl (http://bvgirl.squarespace.com) in 2002, as a private blog for those involved with the Financial Consulting Group, a Los Angeles-based business valuation and financial consulting firm in which she serves as executive director. By 2005, the blog went public and Lang described her experience as a "profile-raising exercise and a personal marketing tool" that has led to speaking engagements and authoring articles for various publications.

For those who are interested in starting a blog, Lang suggested registering your own domain name and then directing it to your blog. It gives off a more professional appearance and will allow you to ultimately switch to a more sophisticated software application once you outgrow your free blogging platform.

"I would make sure you have something to say first, because there are enough bad blogs out there," Lang said, adding that writing regular posts is important, but to not overdo it on a daily basis. "Review other blogs in the field and get a feel for what issues are being covered and discussed. Pick a topic area and try to stay within it. If you look at it like a chore and it's not appealing to you, it's going to be harder for you. For a blog to be compelling, it has to be remarkable in some way."

Golden also suggested thinking about the blog's audience, and said that it's okay if other bloggers are writing to your subject matter.

"Being first to the market is great, but even being out there in the first 200 blogs is going to be gigantic for a firm," she said, adding that who will write the blog is another thing a potential blogger needs to think about, because it doesn't necessarily have to be a partner of the firm.

"There is a whole firm full of people who get social media a lot better than the partners do," Golden said. "And those people would be awesome at developing content. They're not going to sound 'dorky,' and they know what they're doing. I suggest you create a team of authors."

She suggested keeping the blog posts short, between 50 and 250 words, and linking to other sites to help give the impression that you're providing references in your area of expertise.

"A beauty of blogs is that short posts are best; if your post is basically an observation and conclusion, that's a perfect post," Golden said. "Links are fantastic. Heavy linking really bumps you up in your search engine optimization. And that's another reason to blog, because your static Web site is horrible for search engine optimization. Google loves good words. You are going to get hits with a conversational blog."

One other thing to think about upon venturing into the blogosphere is your content. Make sure it's effective and appropriate. Firms usually don't need to adopt a corporate blogging policy, Golden said, but may want to re-affirm the corporate communications policy instead.

"Legal issues tend to arise when you blog about something that someone does not want you to blog about," Lang said, pointing out that it's important to make it clear on your blog that your posts are opinion. "The issues tend to fall under one of three categories - defamation, intellectual property misuse or privacy violations. Use common sense."

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